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Goalies set to battle in crease clash

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

You have to be your best and when you stop a lot of pucks you're going to play. That's the same thing right now. It would've been the same thing with [Kiprusoff]. It doesn't change."Karri Ramo

CALGARY -- For the first time in a decade, the Calgary Flames have a big question mark in training camp.

Who starts in goal?

After making his retirement official earlier in the week, longtime franchise face Miikka Kiprusoff isn't the answer. Kiprusoff, 36, left the crease as the Flames' leader in wins (305), shutouts (41) and games (576).

"He was one of the best goalies who ever played and I really looked up to him when I was younger," said Karri Ramo, one vying for Kiprusoff's spot. "I followed him a lot since 2004. He was one of the biggest idols for me.

"It would be really nice to play with him but there's not that chance anymore."

Ramo is one of four contenders between Calgary's pipes. He's joined by fellow Finn Joni Ortio, Reto Berra and Joey MacDonald, who spent the shortened 2012-13 season with the Flames after being plucked off waivers from the Detroit Red Wings in early February. He appeared in 21 games, sporting an 8-9-1 record with a respectable 2.87 goals against average and .902 save percentage.

Kiprusoff retired with 623 games of NHL experience. Calgary's four candidates combine for just 167 -- split between MacDonald and Ramo.

Experience doesn't matter when you're making saves, though.

"You have to be your best and when you stop a lot of pucks you're going to play," Ramo said. "That's the same thing right now. It would've been the same thing with [Kiprusoff]. It doesn't change."

But MacDonald is hoping it is experience that gives him the inside track for the No. 1 job. MacDonald leads the troop with 122 career NHL games under his belt, serving as a journeyman netminder for the Red Wings, New York Islanders, Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs.

"Me being the older guy that everyone is kind of looking up to is a little bit different," said MacDonald, who played a career-high 49 games in 2008-09 for the Islanders. "It puts a little bit more pressure on me to battle for that No. 1 spot. When you've got goaltenders battling for one spot, it's good competitiveness.

"It's kind of nice coming into the season knowing that you've got a good chance at being the No. 1 or the No. 2, whatever it is. It makes it a little bit easier on your brain knowing that and knowing you've got more experience than the rest.

"Hockey's a strange game, though. You never know what's going to take place and injuries and stuff like that. It can change in a hurry. You've just got to give yourself the best opportunity to take advantage."

Others are hoping to make the competition more intense. Neither Berra nor Ortio have NHL experience but both come highly regarded.

And while Berra hasn't skated on NHL ice, his experience with Calgary coach Bob Hartley may give him a leg up; Hartley faced Berra as coach of the ZSC Lions in Switzerland.

"He knows me a little bit when he coached in Zurich and he played against me," Berra said. "He gave me a call and we spoke a little bit together about normal stuff, about life and other things and how the other guys he knows from his old team in Zurich. Things like that."

Though he hasn't played in the NHL either, Ortio, has spent time in North America with the Abbotsford Heat, Calgary's American Hockey League affiliate. After a standout performance at the Young Stars tournament in Penticton, he's thrust himself into contention as well.

Ortio's play, along with what he's seen from the other three goaltenders in camp has Hartley feeling confident in finding a new starting goaltender.

"We anticipate a great battle," he said. "We have two Finns, a Swiss and a Canadian battling for the No. 1 job and we have a very promising young prospect in Laurent Brossoit that is performing real well.

"Those four others, they have professional experience and that's, for me, this is very good. I feel very confident around those guys."

"Talking with them, I get mixed up every day because they only talk to me about they want to be No. 1. That's the good part. The sad part is there's only one net."

One net that, when the dust clears from training camp, will be minted by a new starting goaltender for the first time in 10 years.

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